’Managing expectations’ or ’Getting your betrayal in first’? Call
it what you like, Labour’s strategy to win business confidence
pre-election has been pretty much a promise of change. A few new
policies, but basically business as usual.
So dare we assume that a Labour government will mean a status quo for ad
agencies? I’m afraid not.
Outright hostility to advertising may have waned under the banner of New
Labour, but tighter restriction is still very much on the agenda.
We can expect Labour to ban tobacco advertising as soon as it can. It’s
just a question of whether the final blow is dealt from Westminster or
The wider risk for agencies, of course, is that a ban will set a
precedent for restrictions in other areas, such as alcohol and toys
While further restrictions are still possible, albeit unlikely, we’re
assured that continuing self-regulation is preferred to any statutory
Increased regulation is undoubtedly an important issue for agencies and
will remain the subject of much debate.
But it is only one of several ways in which a Labour government will
Top of the bill, clearly, are Gordon Brown’s housekeeping skills. But,
leaving that aside (Budget crisis? What Budget crisis?), agencies might
consider three other areas where Labour could impact on their
First, there will obviously be a change in Central Office of Information
business. Priorities are certain to be shuffled, with education,
training and financial services likely to come out on top.
But this doesn’t mean it will actually spend any more. While you
couldn’t accuse New Labour of undervaluing the importance of
communication, the same can’t be said for the Treasury.
Second, a Labour administration might inadvertently stoke media
How? Well, it all turns on Labour’s ambition to bring forward the
development of the ’information superhighway’ - perhaps by as much as
The superhighway is very New Labour - a white heat mix of
communications, infrastructure and hi-tech. So it’s not surprising that
many of its centrepiece policies hope to exploit new media.
And how will Labour speed up its development? Very likely by scrapping
the ban stopping BT from setting up a national cable network, allowing
it to enter the market from next year. Many see this as the pay-off for
BT’s much-vaunted scheme linking schools and hospitals. Granted, it
might not happen so quickly, and BT will start a long way behind the
cable companies. But Labour’s policy of actively promoting new media
gives it a stake in making sure the superhighway develops as quickly as
The outcome will surely be to accelerate media fragmentation and, at
least in the short term, add to media inflation.
Third, Labour’s plans for a more aggressive competition and consumer
policy will weaken protection against lookalikes for many established
brands. There has been some talk on Labour’s front benches of
strengthening the Trades Marks Act to compensate, but there have been no
A Labour government will increasingly rely on the advice of the
competition authorities and the Department of Trade and Industry, both
of which seem happy with the law as it stands.
United Biscuits’ partial victory over Asda in the Puffin vs Penguin case
might be used to demonstrate that brands are sufficiently protected
under the law.
Perhaps it’s a case of winning the battle, but losing the war.
So, while agencies might worry about creeping regulation, they’d also do
well to keep their eye on the rear-view mirror.
It could yet prove to be a bumpy ride.